But Some of Us are Brave: Ruben Salazar

(This post is one in a series on race titled But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

by Ruben Salazar

I’ve never been shot at by a cop or chased by sheets-wearing men, but I have been at the receiving end of power-toting bigots. In many ways, I’m also surrounded by an important aspect of racism—white power (known by some as just “white privilege”). People of color will be on to something positive in our city when we can find ways to dilute dominant white power structures. In my opinion, one of the best ways of doing this is by fighting for diversity (not just tokenism) wherever there are seats at the tables of power.

My friend Sonya said something interesting to me one day. She commented about how some of us go through a ‘get back at whitey’ phase. We had been chatting about the lack of racial diversity around Waco. Sonya is a black woman. I felt an immediate bond with her because we shared the same frustration with white power and privilege. By the way, neither Sonya, nor I, nor others we associate want to get back at anyone. To ‘get back at whitey’, used in the way it rolled off Sonya’s tongue, is the desire to change the white power system. (Try reading Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States, for a benign introduction to white oppression.)

Personal experiences also fuel my desire for change.

For example, I’ve been frisked a few times—for no reason—by white cops for committing minor traffic violations. A white sheriff once flipped me off for no reason when I went to visit a friend at the county jail—I was just 15. And then there was the white highway patrol officer who pulled me over for doing 62 mph on a 60 mph zone. He frisked me, then told me to get into his patrol car’s passenger seat. I asked him if this was protocol. To this, he answered with his heavy twang, “Boy, I do what I want!”

Through the years, I’ve heard white supervisors make comments about how they hate hearing Spanish spoken at work. A white manager once told me that black universities are a form of reverse racism. I’ve been told by white company leadership that Affirmative Action policies only invite unqualified black and Latino personnel who can’t do the work as well as “someone who got the job because they were properly qualified” (i.e., the white person). Two white people, just this past year, boasted to me about their racist actions: one used to shoot his BB gun at blacks walking down the street and the other used to put snakes in the jeeps of black soldiers when he was in the military. Would they admit the same in the face of a black person?

Encounters with racism and white power aren’t always so stark and in your face. For starters, there is a long list of examples of institutionalized racism. Also, there are many white people who exert white power without knowing that they’re doing so. For example, some churches and religious charitable organizations enjoy imposing their power onto non-whites and poorer whites. I used to live in an area in North Waco that is apparently ripe for “community service projects.” I’ve grown accustomed to seeing young white volunteers mow yards and clean up blighted areas for tenants who must be too poor to mow and clean. I know because my yard got mowed once, without my consent, while I was away from the house! That was the day I learned I was poor.

And get this: once, while my wife and I were cleaning our yard, a young white couple walking by stopped and asked us if we were providing “service to the homeowners”! Wow! Who knew people could take care of their own yards?

Can you think what would happen if I—a brown-skinned Mexican—moved to a white upper-class part of town, set up my charity, and began to impose changes on the neighborhood that I thought were needed?

Able-bodied people of color shoot themselves in the foot when they accept having their yards mowed or their houses painted. This acceptance just perpetuates the idea that we need their help.Never do for someone what they can do for themselves”. Now there’s a motto that, if upheld by everyone, would tear down a large chunk of the white power structure lurking in our communities.

Our society will be a better place when blacks, Latinos, poor whites, and others perceived as needy, do for ourselves, instead of relying on the handouts and freebies from entities designed by whites with power — some of whom turn around and complain about poor peoples’ demands for entitlements. This is an argument for grassroots community organizing amongst minorities, but that’s another story.

It would also help if white (and other) insistent do-gooders could begin to view blacks, Latinos and poorer whites as having strengths and abilities, instead of having deficits and having to aspire to middle class values (e.g., the Ruby Payne framework). My suggestion is that they re-educate themselves and others with white power about how their charitable acts, funds and other support, in many ways, perpetuate the very problems they think they’re trying to eradicate.

People of color should continue the fights of our forefathers and mothers for racial equality. We should continue to demand racially diverse leadership (at all tables of power—community organizations, business, government, education, etc.) that mirrors the diversity of our communities so that we can begin to diminish the historical specter of white power and privilege.


ruben salazarRuben P. Salazar is a native Wacoan who enjoys learning about history and culture. He is an artist and a do-it-yourselfer around the house. In the very near future he swears he’ll finally self-publish his long overdue book about a local dude people used to call the Maracas Kid. Gardening and being crafty are two things he loves to do with his lovely wife, Rachel.

But Some of Us are Brave: Kelsey Miller

(This post is one in a series on race titled But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

By Kelsey Miller

I want to recognize the great work Lucas did in his post in this series by echoing his confession: I am racist. We all are. I say this in a spirit of deep repentance, which is where any truthful conversation about race must begin. This beginning also protects us from the dangerous temptation to think that we will somehow transform our culture into a utopia where we will each transcend racism and become color-blind. Better instead to accept and find meaning in the challenge of the work of un-packing our own biases, conscious and subconscious. That is good and fruitful work that we might all dive into together for a lifetime.

I grew up outside Chicago in a very white, very privileged suburb. It was not until I moved to Texas that I first heard a blatantly racist comment, spoken by one white person to another. The naïve temptation in that moment was to believe that somehow, the more highly evolved North was devoid of racism, while the South is filled with it. With more exposure, I soon learned that racism is not a geographical problem or cultural problem; it’s a human problem. Still, in the last few years that I’ve lived in Texas, I am sobered by the number of times I can recall where I said nothing in reply to both explicitly and implicitly racist comments.

One tool that has helped me to analyze some of these comments and attitudes, and to continue questioning my own stereotypes and biases, is to read books and articles by African American authors who are critically engaging issues of race, power, and privilege in our culture. I am deep into Bryan Stevenson’s new book Just Mercy, and I believe his prophetic witness to the deep brokenness in our criminal justice system in the form of racial and socioeconomic disproportionality is changing me permanently.

Stevenson writes, “Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today…One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.”

Stevenson goes on, “Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

If you did not already know this, does it surprise you? I am shocked by the statistics and stories Stevenson shares in this book. Stories of systemized violence against people of color, of intentional legal misrepresentation of African American clients, of scores and scores of laws in our country that are less than 50 years dead that routinized and systemized the inferior status and treatment of people of color. I can own up to the fact that it is a privilege to be shocked, but I hope never to stop there. It is only when you and I use that shock to fuel us to keep reading, to keep listening, and to keep having the hard conversations that it becomes truly valuable.

Stevenson’s work has empowered me to engage more critically and respond more vocally to daily instances and examples of the dangerously disproportionate systems he unpacks. For white people, this means first confessing our own participation in racism, even if we think it only happens inside our own heads, and then resisting the urge to remain silent when other white people make openly or implicitly racist remarks. I used to think that it wasn’t worth risking a relationship or upsetting a temporary calm to call out wrong when I heard it. And I doubted my own strength, or that a few comments from me on the destructive nature of racism could be effective. How often do I tell myself that lie? That people can’t change or won’t understand, and it’s better for me to just be quiet?

Perhaps the more sobering question is this: is false harmony more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice?

A switch flipped when I realized that I can choose to either sell out people of color by refusing to openly condemn racism when I see it in action, or I can summon the courage to say something when it would be easier to be quiet. I’ll admit that this understanding of “bravery” is really lame and cheap in the wake of protestors who took to the streets of Selma, the bus boycotters who endured beatings and abuses, the unjustly tried and accused who faced all-white juries presented with zero evidence, followers of Dr. King and Malcolm X who were willing to give their all so that they might be heard, and so many more. Still, my voice is what I have, and speaking up is one thing I can do. So rather than be immobilized by the weight of my privilege and frustration, I can choose to say something. I can decide that false harmony is not more valuable than the everyday pursuit of equality and justice. I can risk the hurt feelings or shock of neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends when I tell them that comment they just made was NOT ok (and why).

And, since I started this post with a confession, I’ll end it with one: I am pretty terrible at being brave, most especially about a topic as challenging and uncomfortable as racism. But I’m trying, and I’m working on it, and I’m learning from people who are much braver and wiser than I am.

Will you join me? How can we be brave together today?


kelseyKelsey Miller is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. She is passionate about more people gaining access to and education about healthy foods and our food system, and thinks the expertise of those experiencing hunger and poverty should always be our starting point. Kelsey lives with her husband and rambunctious puppy in Waco, and is also pursuing an MSW from Baylor part-time.

 

But Some of Us are Brave: Shamethia Webb

(This post is one in a series on race titled “But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

A Bad Day – By Shamethia Webb

She was having a bad day.

And what exacerbated it was the fact that it wasn’t unusual.

She awoke on time (which meant early for her). Showered. Brushed her teeth. Scowled at herself in the mirror. And went to work.

All of her co-workers were talking about the black boy who was murdered while walking from a convenience store. They’d been talking about it for days. Talking about it and doing nothing. The same words again and again as if the incessant movement of their mouths negated a seventeen year old corpse.

She hated them.

During her break she washed and rewashed her hands in the restroom. She abhorred being in the ladies room for longer than a few minutes. It smelled like women. Which meant it smelled like pain and fatigue.

She wrenched a paper towel out of the dispenser and cast a frown at the vacant stalls that seemed to mock her loneliness.

She was tired.

She didn’t speak during staff meeting. Didn’t see the point in disturbing her tongue. They always smiled over her suggestions. Or tasted her words with their mouths before spitting them out. It infuriated her. Mostly it hollowed her. Cleaved into her like a perforated knife and emptied her out.

She’d spilled so much of herself over these hallways during her tenure here. Specks of herself all over the walls. Now a permanent grimace clung to her face like love.

The smell of coffee hung in the air. Stale. A room full of spit and disdain. She inhaled. Yes, disdain. She could smell it on them like second skin.

They were talking about him again. Her boss didn’t use the word murder. But defense. And mistake. And misunderstanding.

She hated him.

Her co-worker, the one with a frown for a smile, giggled at her boss’s comment that the black boy should have ducked the bullets.

I thought black boys were fast, he joked. A room full of laughter.

She died a little bit.

But not enough. She still had to clock out. And smile at the receptionist who always mispronounced her name. She still had to leave the building—and them, and them—with as much of herself intact as possible.

She stumbled to her car, trembling in her black woman fury.

She was tired.

In the checkout line at the supermarket, she watched as her few items moved lazily up the conveyor belt. The cashier chatted animatedly with the customer in front of her.

Don’t let this cashier cut her eyes at me, she thought to herself. Not today.

Don’t let her reach for my money with two fingers as if she’s afraid of skin contact. Don’t let her suddenly become mute and unresponsive to my presence, to my human being-ness. Don’t let her. Not today.

She realized with some panic that it wasn’t anger that fueled her thoughts but despair. She recognized that if the cashier did de-humanize her today she wouldn’t respond with fury but with resignation.

The passivity worried her.

I’m dying too fast, she thought.

She tensed as her items moved closer to the cashier, and she couldn’t help but notice that the murdered boy’s eyes stared back from every magazine in the aisle.

The repetition overwhelmed her. She shook.

Pieces of herself broke off. Landed dully on the laminate floor.

She tried to remember her breath. And forget her boss and the restroom stalls and the hundreds of cashiers who’d humiliated her and the tiptoeing gunman and the black corpse and the black corpses theblackcorpsestheblackcorpsestheblackcorpsetheblacktheblacktheblackblackblack

She tried to catch herself but her hands were already gone. Dead.

. . .

I hate soap operas.

A voice behind her.

She opened her eyes. When had she closed them?

A white man behind her scowled at a TV guide featuring frozen celebrities. He turned a full smile on her. The white of his teeth blinding for a moment.

Don’t you just hate soap operas?

She managed a nod.

She did hate them. This aisle was full of things she hated. This city. This world. Full of things she hated. Or perhaps just full of things (No. People, she amended. She liked being correct). Full of people who hated her.

I’d rather read the back of a cereal box than watch TV, the man said.

He picked up one of his boxes of cereal and waved it at her.

This isn’t food but entertainment.

She smiled. Not a full one (she was incapable of that at this point) but a slash of the mouth that surprised her with its suddenness.

. . .

And there was a pocket of time when he wasn’t who he was or had to be and she wasn’t who she was or had to be. They just were.

And there was a glimmer inside of her. Something not quite dead, that stirred.

The cashier was aloof but polite. And that was enough.

She walked to her car without the usual trembling.

The white man (No, man, she corrected) was parked beside her. They chatted as they loaded their items into their cars.

Well, he chatted. She managed to listen without the usual weariness and rage.

Perhaps she would sleep in tomorrow.

Yes.

Perhaps she would grow again.

And as she slid into her driver’s seat, a murmur of a smile across her face, the man waved a crumbled bill in her face and propositioned her for sex.


shamethia webb Shamethia Webb (on the right in the picture) is the Regional Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative Waco Regional Office. She grew up in Waco and spends her free time writing, dreaming, and trying to protect her reign as Connect Four Champion from her nephews. Hip hop music, sour candy, and Toni Morrison novels are a few of her favorite things.

 

But Some of Us are Brave: Lucas Land

(This post is one in a series on race titled “But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

I just want to say one thing. It’s very simple and I’m not supposed to say it. I am racist. Most of the time I don’t know I’m racist and I don’t mean to be racist, but I am. I wouldn’t know much about my own racism if it weren’t for friends of color leading me and teaching me. Friends like Pastor Delvin Atchison of Antioch Baptist Church in Waco. Like my friend Luis and like my friend DeShauna.

You see, White people, like myself, need our brothers and sisters of color to teach us about racism. We are blinded to so many things by our power and our privilege. We don’t think about race every day because we don’t have to, but our brothers and sisters don’t have a choice. They understand race and racism in a way that I never can, because for them it is a lived experience, a daily struggle.

If we hope to overcome our racism and find peace and justice in cities like Ferguson, then White people must begin by confessing. We are racist. I am racist. Racism is real.

In the civil rights movement, people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Septima Clark and many more brave, unnamed souls stood up against the racist laws and treatment they received in the South. They stood together, but they were in one sense alone. They stood up without the support of their White brothers and sisters, without those who held the seats of power. They stood on their own to demand their rights and demand justice. However, it wasn’t until White people stood in solidarity with African-Americans that the nation took notice. The images of firehoses and dogs being turned on peaceful protestors galvanized White Americans to go to the South and stand with their brothers and sisters for their rights and for justice. Then when a White minister from the north was killed there was a national outcry that helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s not right that the death of one White man mattered more than all the deaths of Black people that came before it, but it was a reality of life in those times that the solidarity of White people with the civil rights movement helped changes to the system come about more quickly.

The hashtag and slogan #blacklivesmatter that has emerged from the experience and protests in Ferguson and elsewhere reflects the fact that the reality of life during the civil rights era continues today. We have come so far and yet still have so far to go. I do think passing laws and regulations for police officers related to racial profiling, excessive force and other issues can have a huge impact on the treatment of people of color. It is an important step, like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Yet no law or regulation will remove racism and prejudice from the hearts of human beings.

This is why the movement needs the confession of White people willing to stand with African-Americans and acknowledge our own complicity in the racism and systems that continue the legacies of slavery, colonization and White oppression. Without that solidarity those in power will continue to enforce the status quo and ignore the destructiveness of the systems that perpetuate racism. The hashtag reminds us that we White people must confess that White lives still matter more than Black lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Black community needs a White savior to ride in and solve its problems. That “White savior” complex has caused more harm than good since the Voting Rights Act was passed. As people of privilege and power from the dominant culture, we White people must be careful that our solidarity and activism begins with confession and a lot of listening. When we speak truth to power it must come from an intimate understanding and relationship with those who face the struggle against racism and oppression every day. So please stand with our brothers and sisters of color by admitting and confessing that we are racist, that we don’t know or understand our own racism and that we need our brothers and sisters of color to teach us and lead us forward if we hope to find any peace and justice.


Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, writer and activist. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He is currently working toward a certificate in permaculture design. He was Urban Gardening Intern at World Hunger Relief, Inc. He worked on water and agriculture issues in Bolivia with Mennonite Central Committee. He also founded the sustainable landscaping business Edible Lawns here in Waco. He lives with his wife, three children and flock of chickens in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.

This article was originally published on Lucas’ blog, What Would Jesus Eat?, http://www.lucasmland.com/2014/12/01/solidarity-with-ferguson-i-am-racist/

But Some of Us are Brave: DeShauna Hollie

(This post is one in a series on race titled “But Some of Us Are Brave.” The series includes posts from a diverse group of writers from our community. It takes a considerable amount of transparency and vulnerability for the contributors to this series to pen these posts and voice their experiences. We appreciate their courage, and we hope their willingness to be brave will spark some authentic community conversation on this sensitive and important topic. We hope you will read these posts thoughtfully and join the conversation by responding honestly and respectfully, and by sharing them with your friends and acquaintances. — ABT )

By DeShauna Hollie

As I sat down to write about this theme of “But Some of Us Are Brave”, I thought of my favorite “super hero” Septima Poinsette Clark. Septima lived from 1898 to 1987. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina and lived much of her life there. Although Septima lived until she was 89, and is considered by many as the grandmother of the civil rights movement, her story isn’t as widely known as those of other civil rights leaders.

As a teacher and avid civil rights activist, Septima helped pioneer some important aspects of the civil rights movement. She helped to create Citizenship Schools that addressed the barriers and unjust laws that African Americans faced when it came to registering to vote in the South. These laws varied by county and state, but many required African-American voters to be able to pass a literacy test in order to vote unless their grandfather had voted in a previous election. This disqualified most Blacks in the South, because their grandfathers had been slaves and barred from voting. Activists like Septima found ways to address these laws while at the same time protesting them.

(Clark, pg 33)

(Clark, pg 33)

Septima also worked with Myles Horton of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN to train other civil rights leaders and activists in non-violent civil disobedience. Rosa Parks attended one of those trainings and gatherings. Rosa went on to help lead the Montgomery bus boycott a few months later.

Septima used her training and passion as an educator to fight against systemic racism in the South. She consistently spoke up for the rights of marginalized people and continued to speak out even when her life was threatened, even when she was fired from her job as teacher for being a member of the NAACP, even when she was thrown in jail for holding integrated meetings with Whites and Blacks, and even when she was ostracized by many members in her community for using her voice to help others. She is indeed a super hero. In her later years, when asked about her work and contribution to the civil rights movement, she replied, “I don’t expect to see a utopia. No, I think there will always be something that you’re going to work on always. That’s why when we have chaos and people say, ‘I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m concerned,’ I say, ‘Out of that will come something good.’ It will too. They can be afraid of what is going to happen. Things will happen and things will change. The only thing that is really worthwhile is change. It’s coming.” (Clark, pg126)

charron pg 359

(Charron, pg 359)

Septima chose to continue working towards change her entire life, despite the consequences. Another quote of hers that I love goes: “It’s not that you grow old, but it is how you have grown old. I feel that I have grown old with dreams that I want to come true, and that I have grown old believing there is always a beautiful lining to that cloud that overshadows things. I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift, and this has come during my old age.” (Clark pg124)

Septima Clark is an inspiration to me and what I want my life to be like. I want to work for what I believe in my entire life. I want to work towards a more accepting society, a society that acknowledges that we are not a utopia. We have come pretty far since the days of slavery and segregation but the journey continues.

There is an elephant in the room that we are so afraid to mention. We are afraid and concerned that we may say something offensive, that we may hurt each other. The protests sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9th in Ferguson, MO, prompted questions in my mind about what I could do to stand in solidarity with that community and with others in my own community of Waco, TX, as we all grieved over the loss of a life. I’m not sure why this particular event spoke to me in a way that other shootings had not, but it made me want to take to the streets and scream “Black Lives Matter” and “Enough is Enough” along with other protesters. I love a good protest. They are invigorating and a great way to let off steam so that I can get down to the business of figuring out how to bring about the change that I am screaming about. Septima’s model of continual work and non-violence remind me that there is always a positive way to go about change.

The anger is real. The despair is real. The hurt is real. I believe it is time we made the conversation real. Although we are not Ferguson, MO,and are in Waco, TX, we have our own history of racism, prejudice and discrimination that is very real. I want Waco to prosper and I want to continue to work towards positive change in Waco. Will you join me in the conversation?

I know that conversations about change, about injustice, about past hurts and about how we move forward can sometimes be scary and hard. But dialogue with each other is the first action that we can take in being allies to each other.


DeShauna HollieThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by DeShauna Hollie. Deshauna grew up in Waco and is infant/toddler teacher at The Talitha Koum Institute Therapeutic Nursery. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

Resources:

Charon, Katherine Mellen. Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel 2009.

Clark, Septima Poinsette and Cynthia Stokes Brown. Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement. Wild Trees Press, Navarro, California:1986.

 

Wonder

By Alexis Christensen

Do you feel that? The teetering over the edge, the earth-itself-is-shaking feeling? During the past few weeks, you may have felt many emotions—some crushed under the weight of tragedy, others overcome by confusion, anger and maybe hate; still others may have felt unmoved. The cries of our brothers and sisters in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and across the globe have reached my ears and I could not stay silent. I had to say something or I guess write something.

But let’s rewind. I did not start off ready to engage, oh no, I started out silent. Unable to express my feelings of sheer devastation and my own confusion, trying to figure out the facts, but knowing the facts did not have anything to do with the root issues and reasons Ferguson happened. Most of all, I didn’t want to talk. But, I was pulled from my silence by my lifegroup, a small group through my church, which meets weekly. The Tuesday after the grand jury’s decision about Mike Brown came and, I’ll be honest, I did not want to be at lifegroup. I did not want to share my sorrow, I didn’t want to explain it. But I went anyway and one of my co-leaders suggested that we have a time of prayer for Ferguson. “Oh Lord,” I thought. “What can I say? What can I even pray?” I struggled all day with what I wanted to share. The time arrived and I walked heavy-hearted into my friend’s house. My introspective thoughts began to swirl and I began to feel them taking me captive. I wanted to just sit there, silently, and leave as soon as possible. But my turn was coming. The heat rising in my flesh. Heart beating, mouth dry. At first, the words came out shaky, insecure but unrelenting. Then the tears, hot and slow. I prayed one of the most sincere prayers I’d prayed in a long time. I can’t remember the words, but afterwards I opened the floor for others to share. And do you know what happened? Something beautiful.

To my left and to my right men and women of all races, political leanings, and theology began crying out for our world. Tears came. Words failed. And it was beautiful.

One of my friends who works in the school system prayed for our schools to recognize the face of racism. Another friend prayed for the Church to awaken and step into their role as reconcilers and to strengthen its heart for the work. One of the most stirring words was from a friend who described Ferguson and all of the glass shards from broken windows being picked up and repaired into a mosaic heart. Powerful. I looked at each person around the room and felt a surge of renewed strength for the struggle. I left feeling alive and hopeful.

But the surge of strength did not stop there. Last Sunday, community activist Jenuine Poetess organized a time of reflection and poetry reading. Through spoken word, both old and young, black and white, shared their places of pain, confusion, and hope. They brought wisdom and refreshment to our city. Again, strength found me and I began to feel stirred again in hope.

Several people have asked me if I think Waco could be a Ferguson. The short answer is yes. Until we can talk about race, discrimination, systemic inequities and racial inequality without discounting the black experience, and until our institutions reflect our community, we are in line to see such reactions.

And yet, I am reminded of lyrics to one of my favorite worship songs called Wonder. Hauntingly sung, the lyrics are as follows:

May we never lose our wonder.

May we never lose our wonder.

Wide-eyed and mystified,

May we be just like a child

Staring at the beauty of our King.

There is something about child-like faith that opens doors, hearts and even strategy for change. In this holiday season, do not lose your wonder. Don’t be overcome by brokenness and injustice. Remember to be mystified by this great big world. Believe in the goodness of humanity. And in that space, make room for your own heart to be changed and transformed. Listen to people who have different opinions than you. Speak out. March, yell, cry, give a hug, or write a song. Those things make us human. Give yourself space to relinquish the role of judge and jury. Disconnect from media and connect to your own feelings and emotions about race and justice.

I don’t write things because I think I can change your mind. I write these things because I believe wholeness for our world is possible. It is okay to question yourself and to question God (He can handle it). It’s okay to be wrong too, to humble ourselves and see something in a different way. Being right is overrated anyway.  Just hold tightly to that wonder and we will all see better days.

* This blog is dedicated to my lifegroup, a small group of friends who have transformed the way I look at life and God. Thank you for challenging and encouraging me to be me.

Source: Cook, Amanda. Wonder (Live) [Spontaneous]. Bethel Music. Bethel Music, 2014.


AlexisThis week’s Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Alexis Christensen, a Community Organizer at Waco Community Development Corporation (Waco CDC). Would you be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog? If so, contact [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Examining Ourselves in the Face of Racism Today

by Alexis Christensen

I’m starting this post knowing you might disagree with me, which makes it hard for me to express my thoughts on racism. I actually wrote an entirely different blog post to avoid writing this one. But, this cannot be avoided. Not if we are to move forward in our world, our city, and in our relationships. So, let’s take a breath, remember that we are all people with varied and real experiences, and move forward.

I recently learned a word that has helped me (and others around me) process my feelings about racism in America today. It’s called microaggression. Coined in the 1970’s by Chester Pierce, and broadened by Derald Sue Wing, microaggression refers the “quiet, often unintended slights— racist or sexist — that make a person feel underestimated on the basis of their color or gender.” These slights are everyday words, phrases, or adjectives used to describe people of color that perpetuate stereotypes and racial structures in our society. This isn’t hyper-sensitivity, anger, or bitterness. It’s about speaking up when people hurt and devalue others. As a black woman, I can think of countless examples of microagression. People I love and cherish have unknowingly caused pain. Comments as simple as “You probably like fried chicken too” to bigger ones like “You don’t talk/act like a black person.” Other friends have shared similar experiences, enduring comments such as “I’m glad you’re not an angry black woman” and “Your skin isn’t too dark.” These comments do not define black culture. They actually nullify a person’s self, creating ruptures in our view of the world. From experience, the best way to move forward is to break the silence.

That’s just what a group of black Harvard students did. Through a photo campaign called “I, Too Am Harvard students joined together to share their experiences with microaggression. Their boldness to confront these everyday occurrences sent waves through the campus and the world. It gave confidence not only to the students, but to many in the black community who are told that white is right.

Breathe.

It also started dialogue. Dialogue is important because racism isn’t dead. It may be less blatant but it is alive and well, and if racism discussions become taboo, then we are losing. Personally, I try to avoid most things that produce tension and disharmony. But this conversation, this topic, has been growing inside of me, not only because I am black, but because of the work I do in the community. Conversations often amount to stuffing down emotions, numbing ourselves as a people, or giving up hope because we can’t afford to be misunderstood again. But I have a group of radically deep, intellectual, caring friends and family members who have nurtured and listened, and challenged me to lend my voice to the dialogue.

My hope, (I always hope), is that whoever you are, wherever you are, you will take Socrates’ advice to heart and know that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I’m asking you to live a life where ignorance of microaggression doesn’t equal bliss, and that you’ll lend your voice to the dialogue in your own way. I don’t have all the answers; heck, I’m a super complex person and cannot begin to tell you what to do. But I can offer a place to start. Let’s make this an ongoing discussion. Only through intentional conversation and examining our lives can we combat today’s brand racism. As we work and live in community, and as we believe for a better world, the more thought, effort, time and conversations we have, the greater openness we will see in our communities for all people. We will see greater unity and reconciliation in our lifetime, if we try.

Learn more about microaggression (Links I utilized in the writing of this post):

I, Too Am Harvard:

Other Publications:

AlexisThis week’s Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Alexis Christensen, a Community Organizer at Waco Community Development Corporation (Waco CDC). Would you be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog? If so, contact [email protected].

 

 

 

 

A White person reflects on Black History Month

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Like many White, middle-class Americans, I grew up understanding life as a competition, a footrace. The ones who run the fastest, and by that I mean work the hardest, win the prizes. I knew good, hardworking people – my parents for example – who were winning, and I expected to be a good, hardworking person who would also win. In fact, that is exactly how it has played out so far.

Of course… to feel good about winning, you have to believe the race is fair.

I don’t remember having “Black History Month” when I was in school, but we definitely studied slavery and the Civil War. We saw slides of the Little Rock Nine being escorted to class by the National Guard, and of White people turning dogs and fire hoses on Black people. We learned about Rosa Parks taking her seat on the bus in Montgomery, and we learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the “I have a Dream” speech.

Without even thinking about it, I interpreted all of this through my footrace metaphor, like so: (1) Slavery was an unthinkably horrible sin. (2) Even after slavery ended, the race was not fair. White people cheated – a lot. (3) Thanks to Dr. King, and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, Black people were able to use the legal system to make the race fair. Conclusion: Things were terrible before, but they are OK now; we can quit worrying so much about the Black/White thing, and just concentrate on running as fast as we can.

I was fairly comfortable with this conclusion for a long time.

Recently I came across a 2013 Pew Research Center Report partially titled “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal.” According to this report, Black Americans are nearly three times as likely as White Americans to have incomes below the poverty guideline. The median net worth (wealth) for White households is more than ten times that of Black households, and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as White men. With these facts in mind, I have to ask myself an uncomfortable question: if the race is fair, why do we continue to see such huge disparities?

It seems blindingly obvious now, but it took me a long time to realize that if I wanted to begin to untangle the knot of reasons behind these differences I needed to tweak my footrace metaphor. In my mind the race for success had always been an individual event. If I win it is because of my hard work; if I lose it’s because I should have worked harder. If you lose…well … you get the picture. I still believe this is the truth; it’s just not the whole truth. Hard work matters, but it’s also important to realize that the race is not, and never has been, an individual event.  It’s a relay.

levittownpicLet’s say, for example, my White grandparents saved their money and bought a house in the suburbs back in the 40’s. That house increased in value and became part of the nest egg my parents used to get an even nicer house in an even better neighborhood. That meant I got to go to a really good high school, and from there to a good university, and from there to a good job. Meanwhile Black grandparents in the 40’s didn’t get to buy that house in the suburbs because of prejudicial deed restrictions (not to mention inhospitable neighbors). To make matters worse, no (White owned) bank would loan them the money to build a nice house in a Black neighborhood because it was “too high risk.” That meant no nest egg, no nicer house for their kids, and a not so great high school in a declining neighborhood for their grandkids – my peers. Multiply this scenario by thousands of Black and White grandparents and you begin to see one reason why there is such a huge disparity in wealth between Black and White households today.

Even if the leg of the relay I’m running now is reasonably fair (or at least fair-er), the previous legs of the race were seriously rigged in favor of White people. I was way, way ahead before I ever started to run.

I do not know exactly what we should do to even out the disparities that have come about as a result of the inequities of the past. Should we invest more in public schools? In rebuilding high poverty neighborhoods? Should we provide more support to Black-owned businesses? Should we take a hard look at our legal system? Maybe we should do all of these things; maybe none of them; maybe there are other creative solutions I can’t even imagine. I don’t know. I just know that there is a limit to how much time even a great athlete can make up in the last lap of a relay. If we care about reducing the Black/White disparities described above any time soon, we are going to have to do something more than just telling people to “run as fast as you can.”

ABT in FrameThis week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the www.www.actlocallywaco.org website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter.  The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco.  If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Martin Luther King Jr : A Hero, not a Super-Hero

By Ashley Bean Thornton

In 2011 my husband and I participated in a fantastic program called a Church Swap. It was organized by Ramona Curtis and Mia Moody-Ramirez under the auspices of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The Waco Foundation and the Waco Community Race Relations Coalition. The central element of the program was (as the name suggests) swapping churches for three months: White people going to African-American churches and African-American people going to White churches. In addition to that central experience, the funding for the project also paid for a group of us “church-swappers” to go together on a Civil Rights Tour. One of the stops on the tour was the National Civil Rights Museum which is housed in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. You may remember the Lorraine Motel as the site where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

As you might imagine, touring that motel and seeing the exact spot where the assassination took place is an emotional experience. It was eerie, sad, angering, inspiring …the list of feelings goes on. It would be an understatement to say it gave me quite a bit to think about. In the midst of this reflection, I wrote my mom a letter telling her about our visit to the museum, sharing some of my feelings and asking her if she had any particular memories of what it was like during the time when the assassination happened. She surprised me by writing back, “You might not remember it, but we were living in Memphis on Tahiti Lane when MLK was killed.”

I didn’t remember that at all. I knew we had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when I was little, but I hadn’t worked out the dates to figure out that we were there when the assassination took place. It turns out I was six.

ABT and GrannyWhen I got home from the tour, I dug through some old pictures and found a picture of myself at that age. In the picture I’m standing with my Granny Mears. Up until that point I guess I had always thought of Dr. King as a “super hero,” larger than life, fundamentally different from me and people I know. Even though I knew intellectually that his assassination took place during my lifetime, it was never really “real” to me. I thought of it as something that happened a long time ago in a place very different from any place I had been – another time, another world. In other words, I had never thought of Dr. King as a regular person.

Seeing this picture of myself at the age I was when he was killed, and finding out that I was living in the same city where he was killed, at the time that he was killed, changed my way of thinking about him. I feel a more concrete human connection. He was a “regular person, ” a human being like me. I think it is important for me to remember that my heroes are human beings like me. They live in the same cities where I live. They eat the same food and drink the same water. They probably get pictures of themselves taken with their grannies. As a part of our honor and reverence for Dr. King and other personal heroes, it is important to remember they are not “super-heroes from another dimension.” They are not fundamentally different from the rest of us. They are fundamentally the same. Or perhaps more to the point, we are fundamentally the same as them. We share the same responsibility to do our part to make this world the place it should be. To forget or ignore that most basic of facts is a way of letting ourselves – myself – off the hook.

For every White person in Waco: Five Things to Do

By Ashley Bean Thornton

After attending two Juneteenth celebrations and the terrific mural celebration party at the East Waco Library, I have seen far more Black people in the last month than I have seen in the 24 months before that combined.

Does that last sentence make you cringe a little? It made me cringe a little to write it. Do I sound like I’m bragging about being the cool White person who hangs out with Black people? Am I supposed to say “Black” or should I say “African-American?” Was I intruding? Would the Black people have liked it better if no White People had come? Should I write a post that focuses only on Black/White racial relationships? How will that make people of other races and ethnicities feel?IMG_1317

When it comes to race, I second guess myself coming and going. That’s OK though. If Waco is going to be a great place to live for every person of every level of income, more of us have got to wade into the sometimes fun, sometimes fascinating, often uncomfortable waters of learning more about other races and ethnic groups. I think Maya Angelou’s advice applies here, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” With that in mind here are five things I’ve done in the last few years that I feel like have helped me “know better.” I recommend them to you, my fellow White people.

1. Shop for kids’ books – Go to Barnes & Noble and try to find a baby book or a kids’ book with an other-than-white person on the cover. I did, and it was shocking to me how few choices I had. Once this opened my eyes I started noticing Black/White differences in all kinds of advertising, especially local advertising. Books and advertising influence our thinking, especially if we don’t notice that they are slanted.

2. Read Some of my Best Friends are Black  by Tanner Colby and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – The Colby book is an easy read by a white man who grew up in the South. It’s a very accessible, somewhat irreverent, look at some of our foundational institutions – education, housing, church – and how they have contributed to our current race relations (or lack thereof). The New Jim Crow is a challenging read. I didn’t agree with every word of it, but it broke open my thinking about crime and race. Everyone should read this book.

3. Watch “Race the Power of an Illusion – This is a 3-Part documentary about race in society, science and history. It’s a little hard to find, but they have it at the Baylor library. (The Waco-McLennan County Libraries have ordered a copy.  It should arrive sometime July 2013.)  The information on the science of race and the section on housing were the most interesting to me. It shares a historical perspective that I bet most White people don’t know, but should.

4. Attend a Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC)  meeting – Waco is lucky to have a thriving group of people who care about promoting good conversations about race. I recommend their regular “Dinner and a Movie” meetings as a good way to ease into the conversation. Last Valentine’s Day, for example, they had a full house to watch “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Steve and Kathy Reid, of Truett Seminary and the Family Abuse Center respectively, led an honest, thought-provoking conversation about bi-racial marriage.

5. Attend a Black church…more than once — A few years ago the CRRC organized a “Church Swap.” Black people went to White churches and White people went to Black churches for three months. Attending a Black church for several Sundays gave us time to get past the initial shock-factor of a completely different worship style, to meet a few people, to learn some of the songs and to get to the point where we were actually worshipping instead of just observing. That experience did more to make me comfortable with being “the only white person in the room” than anything else I have ever done. I highly recommend it.

That’s my list of five?  What are yours?